FDA proposes calorie labeling rules on menus

by Bryan Salvage
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WASHINGTON – Two proposed regulations regarding calorie labeling on menus and menu boards in chain restaurants, retail food establishments and vending machines were issued April 1 by the US Food and Drug Administration.

The proposed menu labeling rule applies to retail food establishments. Consumers would see calories listed in restaurants and similar retail food establishments that are part of a chain with 20 or more locations doing business under the same name and offering substantially the same menu items for sale.

Such establishments include fast-food establishments, bakeries, coffee shops and certain grocery and convenience stores. Movie theaters, airplanes, bowling alleys and other establishments whose primary purpose is not to sell food would not be subject to this proposed regulation. The proposal invites the public to comment on whether additional types of food establishments should or should not be covered by the new rule. A companion rule proposes calorie posting for food sold in vending machines. FDA is accepting comments on both proposed rules.

“Americans now consume about one-third of their total calories on foods prepared outside the home,” said Margaret Hamburg, M.D., FDA commissioner. “While consumers can find calorie and other nutrition information on most packaged foods, it's not generally available in restaurants or similar retail establishments.”

The Affordable Care Act requires disclosing calorie and other nutrition information in certain food establishments and for certain foods sold in vending machines. Regarding menus and menu boards, statements would be posted concerning suggested daily calorie intake and indicating additional nutrition information is available on request, FDA said. This information would be displayed clearly and prominently on menus and menu boards, including menu boards in drive-through locations; and for individual foods displayed.

The agency is proposing the following statement on daily caloric intake be on menus and menu boards to help consumers understand the significance of the calorie information in the context of a total daily diet: “A 2,000 calorie diet is used as the basis for general nutrition advice; however, individual calorie needs may vary.”

Operators, under the proposed rules, who own or operate 20 or more vending machines would post calorie information for food sold in a vending machine – unless certain nutrition information is already visible on individual packages of food inside the machine.

State and local governments could not impose different nutrition labeling requirements for food sold in restaurants, similar retail food establishments, and vending machines covered by the federal requirements. Restaurants, similar retail food establishments and vending machine operators not covered by the federal requirements could voluntarily register to be covered under the federal nutrition labeling regulations.

Comment is being sought on the proposed rule for menu labeling until June 6. Comments on the proposed rule on vending machines may be submitted until July 5. FDA plans to issue final rules before the end of 2011.

The agency invites feedback on the proposed regulations by visiting http://www.regulations.gov.
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